From Bamako to Blue Ridge

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, October 6, 2016

Mande Strings Kids by Tiecoura N’Daou

Mande Strings Kids by Tiecoura N’Daou

Nearly all of us know someone who has travelled abroad with the Peace Corps or a mission trip — clear ways to do good while seeing the world. But what is the reverse method of connecting cultures? Local 501c3 Cradle of Jazz Project (CoJP) has launched a new and innovative means of creating bridges between geographically distant people.

With a mission of “illuminating the connections between West Africa and the Americas through music and education,” this August, CoJP embarked on their most ambitious mission to date. Working with three prominent Malian stringed musicians and their children, CoJP has created a cultural exchange they hope will endure for years to come, connecting musician children across great divides in a semester-long education exchange.

“We hope to be funded through an endowment our next time around, but this year, a tour was the only way to get things done,” CoJP’s director, Julie Moore, explains. Julie spent the last two years organizing the Mande Strings tour, aimed at universities and other educational venues. By booking shows from Eastman School of Music to Furman University as well as Tryon Fine Arts Center, Moore was able to secure the funds to bring the musician’s three children to the United States for their first semester of exchange with musician children in the United States.

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The benefit concert on Friday, Oct. 28 at Tryon Fine Arts Center will present an intimate evening of the artists’ modern exploration of the traditional stringed music of Mali, West Africa’s Bambara, Soninke, and Wasulu cultures. The evening begins at 6:30 p.m. with a reception and local artists silent auction in the TFAC lobby, with performances by the musicians’ children. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m.

Studying together daily, the children are all performing at grade level in math, science, and handwriting, while fully immersed in multi-cultural musical studies and an intensive language exchange.

“Our American students and the Malian children, since having arrived in mid-August, are now out-pacing the teachers in language exchange, through immersive play and necessity,” Julie reports.

But academics is just the tip of the iceberg; arts is where the meaty exchange is taking place. On the Western side, the children are taking ballet twice weekly at the Greenville Ballet; playing mandolin, banjo, and guitar at the Tryon Fine Arts Center PACJam program; and taking Suzuki-style piano, cello, and music theory lessons.

On the Malian side, all students are maintaining studies in song and dance, ngoni (harp), guitar, and balafon, through lessons by in-residence instructor and Mande Strings artist Lamine Soumano. Interpreter and Malian operations manager for CoJP, Assigué Dolo, and Julie, direct the learning.

“For years I have wanted my children to participate in a multi-cultural exchange. I had thought the only option would be traveling abroad ourselves, but what we have created in this initiative is much more rich,” Moore reports. “The only thing that could top what we’re doing in these three months is receiving an endowment so the exchange can continue on an annual basis. To empower children to move fluently in multiple cultures – that is an irreplaceable gift. We hope to be able to continue this important work.”

Mande Strings performs throughout the area this October. For more information, visit

– article submitted by Michelle Fleming